DETROIT — Sean Patchell notched both Michigan State goals as the Spartans advanced to the CCHA championship game with a 2-1 win over Bowling Green.
The close, defensive game showcased the goaltending of both Ryan Miller and Tyler Masters, who kept the game tighter than it might otherwise have been. Miller had 28 saves in the match, including 16 in the third period. At the other end, Masters allowed just one goal on 17 second-period shots.
“I couldn’t ask anything more of our guys than we got tonight,” said Buddy Powers, Bowling Green head coach. We’ve had an extremely tough stretch during the last few weeks, and I thought they played their hearts out against the number-one team in the nation. We were hoping to be in a one-goal situation in the third period, and we were exactly there. I think we saw in the last five minutes why Miller is the best goaltender in the country.”
During those last five minutes in regulation, Miller made eight saves from within a few feet of the Spartan cage, five alone on senior Ryan Murphy, the Falcons’ leading goalscorer this season.
Miller said the third period was “challenging.” “In the second period, we kind of controlled the play, so you knew they were going to come out hard. I just wanted to stay on top of things and fortunately I got a hold of a few pucks.”
The Falcons took the early lead on Kevin Bieska’s goal at 16:36 in the first. Ryan Wetterberg came in close to challenge Miller, forcing the Spartan goalie to hug the right post for a save. Brad Fast attempted to clear the puck, which found its way to Bieska’s stick. Miller couldn’t recover in time to block Bieska’s blast from the top of the slot and the Falcons had a brief one-goal lead.
Three minutes later on the power play, Sean Patchell tied it up for the Spartans, assisted by John-Michael Liles and Damon Whitten. From the left circle, Liles banked the puck off the boards behind the net; Patchell picked it up near the red line, right, and made a steep-angle shot that went long.
Patchell’s second goal came at 15:56 in the second, an even-strength rocket from the top of the slot. After taking a pass from Troy Ferguson, Patchell sent the puck from his skate blade to his stick, shot, and beat Masters high.
“On the first [goal], it was a shot from the point that I thought was being deflected by the guy on the right side of the play, but he let it go and it careened off the backboards perfectly,” said Masters. “On the second one, [Patchell] capitalized on his opportunity. Two good shots, and it’s hard to stop goals like that. That’s the difference in the game right there.”
“This game was pretty much the way we expected,” said Michigan State head coach Ron Mason. “Bowling Green has played very patient here in the playoffs, which is a little different than what they’ve played in the regular season.
“In the second period we had numerous great chances … and couldn’t get one. Sometimes that comes back to haunt you. We’ve been able to hang in those close games and win them, but they took us to the wall, no question about it.”
Said Powers, “From our standpoint … we were hoping that State wouldn’t run away from us early. Like I said, we get into a one-goal situation, which is where we wanted to be, but we just didn’t get the job tonight.”
The Spartans improve their record to 31-4-4, and will face the winner of the second semifinal game, which pits Nebraska-Omaha and Michigan.
For the Falcons, who made the playoffs during the last game of regular-season play and who won three road playoff games to make it to Detroit, the season ends with a record of 16-19-5.
“A week down the road, two weeks down the road, we’ll realize that we made a really good run in the playoffs here, and … it will be a learning experience for us,” said Masters, “but right now it’s awfully disappointing.”